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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The COPS Office is pleased to feature the Mesa Police Department as the July 2018 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest. The winning photo features an officer greeting children on his motorcycle during the Mesa Veterans Day Parade.
The City of Mesa, the third largest in Arizona, is home to a population of approximately a half million. Located east of Phoenix, the city’s popular highlights include Arizona State University, as well as the Chicago Cubs and Oakland A's Spring Training baseball facilities. Police Chief Ramon Batista considers Mesa a great community with relatively manageable crime and plenty of support for law enforcement. Despite that, the Mesa Police Department (MPD) recently hit news headlines after two videos of incidents involving police were released to the public.
Having served with the Tucson Police Department for 31 years, Chief Batista joined Mesa just 11 months ago. In that time, he has implemented a number of changes, including bringing more civilians into police department positions and making improvements in technology. “In the first few months here, I saw a department that was willing to try new things,” he shared. “Technology-wise, they are very open.” The department is in the process of implementing a new CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) system and every officer will be equipped with his/ her own department- issued cell phone. Officers will also carry business cards that include their department cell phone numbers to be distributed during calls for service.
With 750 sworn officers and 430 civilian personnel, Batista searches for opportunities to put professional staff into historically sworn roles to help diversify the department. His decision to civilianize substation leadership was met with some controversy, but in the past five months, he says it has been successful.
Leading by example, and pushing for innovative advances within the department, Batista is relying on the principles of community policing to help mend relationships between residents and police. As he moves into his second year in Mesa, Batista understands the challenges that lie ahead. Community support for law enforcement is under threat, but he promises to fix it.1 “My focus will be in making sure that we align our values espoused with some of the actions that I want to see on the street,” he said. “It is so important to me that our officers treat everyone with dignity and respect. It is very easy to do when people are thanking officers for their service. But it is important that we behave the same way with those that do not want to come in contact with the police.”
Batista plans for the department to continue its outreach efforts with the numerous community groups in the city, while also ensuring that the department’s youth programs include diverse groups of Mesa’s children. He wants to giv e the youth the opportunity to not only interact with police, but also with other children that they never would have met otherwise. “You see kids connecting with kids that they never would’ve had contact with and we hope they build lasting relationships.”
At the time this article was written, Batista was being vetted for the executive board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the East Valley. “I’ve seen the good that the Boys & Girls Clubs can do in some of our impoverished areas. I want us to continue to bring kids into the clubs. I want to have police officers go to the clubs in non-enforcement activities, and their job is to go, after school, and mix it up with the kids. I’m funding that with overtime. This money spent with kids is a huge investment and worthwhile.”
While community engagement is critical, Batista is also committed to developing MPD officers and staff. Focusing internally is crucial for the department to regain community trust, which is fragile at a time like this. He is bringing in nationally known and respected consultants to conduct a full review of the department and to help train officers on fair and impartial policing. He has instituted additional courses to the academy’s basic training, is reviewing hiring and recruiting practices, and implementing a customer service approach to the department’s policing efforts.
“We need the guy or gal working in retail, working in the auto parts store, because those are the people who, day in and day out, have to deal with people,” he stressed about recruiting. “They have to provide a service. Restaurant servers are a great example of that. I want to get those people to join our ranks. They’re used to having to solve a problem without having to resort to the use of authority.”
Under Batista’s leadership, the department will focus on solving problems using communication and respect for all Mesa residents. “Our officers have to understand that it is all about communication. The buzz word is ‘de-escalation,’ but I’ll be honest with you, 30 years ago, I was trained to know that you had to talk your way out of a problem. And that is my goal – that officers talk their way out of their problem without resorting to their authority.”
Batista’s faith in his department and the Mesa community was the underlying theme of his entire interview. He exuded great confidence that the police department and the community could restore their relationship and move forward for the greater good. “It’s a really good department. I believe and am faithful in the good men and women of this department who put their lives on the line every day; that go out every day and do the right thing. The stuff that we saw is not reflective of them. I feel as though my job now is to protect them from what we saw. That has to be rooted out. Their good work is being stained by that. It’s a really great place to work. It’s a working class city, but it’s a good department and a good place to work.”
The COPS Office congratulates the Mesa Police Department for being one of the 12 winners of the COPS Office 2018 Community Policing in Action Photo Contest and for its commitment to community policing.
Written with contributions from Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista. Photo courtesy of the Mesa Police Department.
1. “'We will fix this': Mesa police chief calls for outside investigation into use of force,” AZ Central, https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/mesa/2018/06/08/mesa-police-chief-ramon-batista-seeks-outside-investigations-into-police-excessive-force/685282002/, accessed June 13, 2018.
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